With November freshly behind us and December off and running, the annual arrival of dry air and its annoying side effects are upon us. Furnaces are now running regularly, as the daily high temps dip into the 30s and 40s. Cracked lips and static shocks from those you dare come too close to are back on the menu, at least for the rest of the winter.
As the temperature drops, so too does the moisture in the air. Then our fireplaces, heaters, and furnaces cook out what is left. The Mayo Clinic recommends indoor humidity levels are between 30-50 percent. When levels begin to drop below 30 percent, it affects not only us, but our homes, as well. Cracked lips, dry skin, itchy eyes and skin, irritated throat and nasal passages, increased snoring, bloody noses and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses are all caused by our over-cooked indoor air. In our homes, static electricity thrives in these dry conditions, waiting to make you regret a hand shake, hug or kiss from a loved one. Wood furniture, hardwood floors and musical instruments all suffer in low humidity which causes shrinking and cracking. Ever notice those wood floors creaking more in the winter?
These issues can be eliminated with the addition of a humidifier to your home. One option is a central humidifier, which is built into the heating system. These systems can be more expensive than other options. It will also come with an added labor cost in the form of needing an HVAC company to do the install. On the other hand, you won’t have to worry about filling a tank constantly.
Cool mist evaporators are the most economical choice. Single room table top versions may be purchased for well under $100. Larger, whole-house versions can be bought for around $200. These units use a wet wick or filter to soak up water and a fan to pull air through the medium, humidifying it in the process.
I have used a single room unit for the past several years. The drawback to these types of units is they often run continuously, as they struggle to keep up with the room they are in along with air circulating in from another room. With smaller storage tanks, often a gallon or less, they have to be refilled often. They are still much better than nothing, especially in a bedroom at night.
At the end of last winter, my small unit finally gave out. After waking up with dry throats and stuffy noses, we decided it was time to get a new humidifier last week.
The Air Care Alliance whole-house humidifier from Home Depot was the winner for my house. With a 5.4 gallon capacity, four fan speeds, an adjustable humidistat and an auto shutoff, the unit has performed above expectations so far. It claims to handle 3,700 square feet. I will say it more than handles my ranch style house that comes in at under half of that size.
The first few days it ran almost continuously. Since then, it kicks on from time to time but shuts off once it reaches the humidity setting.
The investment was well worth it. Lips are healing. Everyone is sleeping better, and it is much more pleasant to wake up now without a dry throat and stuffy nose.
One other point I failed to mention is that properly humidified air helps save on energy bills. Dry air feels colder than humid air. This is why an 85 degree day with 85 percent humidity in the summer feels more like 100 plus degrees. By having properly humidified air in the winter, the thermostat on your furnace won’t have to be turned up as high to feel comfortable.
A few points of caution should be offered in conclusion. Over-humidified air can cause just as many issues as dry air can. A hygrometer is a handy investment that can be purchased pretty reasonably to enable you to know what the actual humidity is in your home. If it gets too high, it can cause stuffiness, as well, along with bacteria and molds to grow. This can cause respiratory issues, especially for those with asthma and allergies. Also, a bacteriostatic treatment should be bought to add to the water to prevent bacteria and algae from growing in the humidifier. A 32 ounce bottle costs about $8 and uses only a small cap full per treatment.
The benefit in my home has been realized to the point that it was my sixth grade son who sounded the alarm that it was officially humidifier season this year. The addition of one of these to your household is money well spent. The comfort alone is well worth filling up a tank of water every now and then.